Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book 9: The Story of Forgetting

The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block

After Seth's mother is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer's, the teenager, already a science nerd, becomes obsessed with the brain, reading various books on the subject. As he soon discovers, early on-set Alzheimer's is a relatively recent development, and another scientist doing research on the topic has determined that it goes back at most twelve-thirteen generations. Seth becomes obsessed with finding out his mother's own personal and genetic history, something she had never shared with her husband or son. He tracks down some of the other people with this disease in the Austin area and tries to find the familial link.

Interlaced with Seth's narrative is Abel's story, an old hunchbacked man living near Dallas. Given the subject of the novel, it is not hard to guess the relationship between Seth and Abel. Abel has many regrets regarding his past life, not least of which is the fact that he was in love with his twin brother's wife and had an affair with her. He now lives alone on a piece of land that is all that remains of his family's former holdings, waiting. Eventually he reveals what happened to his brother and Mae, his sister-in-law.

Intermixed throughout are the stories of Isidora, stories that Seth's mother used to tell him and that have been passed on with the family. Additionally, there is slightly more scientific writing tracing the origins of the disease, and its dispersion. It is very fitting that a family plagued with a disease that causes forgetting would create a fairy tale about a land without memory.

In addition to being a story about disease, Alzheimer's and family secrets, it also portrays an old misfit trying to fit in with world, or if not fit in, at least survive in it. Seth also is simply trying to survive high school not by fitting in but by not being noticed. I wasn't quite sure what to expect at first, but when I had finished the novel, I was very glad to have read it. I think I almost enjoyed the history of the disease the most as it introduced various ancestors of Abel. There were also a few lines that were a bit humorous, such as the description of the man in whom the genetic variation first must have appeared: "Given his prolific genetic output, it seems likely that A-496 was either some sort of British nobility or perhaps an extremely popular male prostitute" (53). I'd definitely recommend this. I only stumbled upon this due to a staff recommendation at Bookpeople in Austin, and am glad I did (by the way, I loved that bookstore) since I otherwise probably never would have heard of this.

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